Q: I appreciated your column on transportation options once you arrive at your destination airport. I have always wanted to travel abroad — what can I expect at foreign airports?
A: To sample foreign transportation options, we looked to Airport Council International’s 2009 passenger traffic data to find the five busiest airports beyond North American borders. We also investigated Mexico and Canada, as their proximity makes them particularly popular with Americans.
1) London, England
- Heathrow Airport – Operates an airport terminal Help Bus to connect passengers with disabilities to London’s central bus station.
- Transport For London coordinates London’s system of integrated public transit services, including a fully accessible fleet of 22,000 taxis and a door-to-door Dial-A-Ride paratransit service that is available to eligible visitors who have submitted an application in advance. Downloadable accessibility guides provide full details.
2) Beijing, China
- Although Beijing International Capital Airport includes assistance to “the handicapped” on its list of Special Passenger Services, its website makes no apparent mention of wheelchair-accessible ground transportation. Despite the ongoing efforts of the China Disabled Persons’ Federation, compelling reports by the BBC, Wired Magazine and, most recently, by China Daily, find that accessibility improvements to Beijing’s transportation infrastructure that were promised to endure beyond the 2008 Olympic & Paralympic Games have yet to live up to their potential.
3) Tokyo, Japan
- Haneda International Airport has incorporated extensive barrier-free design features, including a free wheelchair-accessible shuttle bus on the terminal grounds.
- Barrier-free facilities connect to Tokyo’s metro transit system. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government continues efforts to improve accessibility throughout the city’s transportation network. In a 2009 analysis of transportation-accessibility issues, Japan’s International Cooperation Agency reported that only 5,000 (2 percent) of Tokyo’s 290,000 taxis were barrier-free.
4) Paris, France
- Operated by Aéroports de Paris, both Charles de Gaulle Airport (Northern Paris) and Orly Airport (Southern Paris) continue to improve accessibility features, welcoming passengers with a variety of disabilities at designated Reception Areas.
- Sage Traveling offers an excellent English-language assessment of accessible transportation options in Paris, as part of its comprehensive guide for travelers with disabilities in Europe.
5) Frankfurt, Germany
- Frankfurt Airport’s barrier-free design and passenger support services ease the way for travelers with disabilities.
- Frankfurt’s transit system (VGF) lists a number of elements to its Mobility For All initiative.
- If you’ve found a reliable provider of wheelchair-accessible taxi services in Frankfurt, please tell Travel Matters about it.
- Mexico City International Airport lists several accessibility provisions for travelers with disabilities, but accessible ground transportation seems conspicuously absent here, too.
- Easter Seals Project Action published a 2009 analysis of national and international accessible ground transportation. Dismal statistics gathered in Mexico City found that although 82 percent of the city’s population of 8 million people uses public transit, only five taxis (not 5 percent – just five) were accessible, along with 3 percent of Metro stations and 10 percent of city busses.
- Access Exchange International’s June 2011 newsletter reported ongoing accessibility improvements to Mexico City’s transit system, including a new subway line featuring 23 accessible stations.
- Although Cancun International Airport is Mexico’s second-busiest, its website lists no in-house passenger assistance services at all. So be sure to investigate any needed arrangements with your airline’s personnel or through your travel agent when you book your trip.
- City taxis are prohibited from picking up passengers at the Cancun Airport. Cancun Shuttle is the airport’s only officially authorized transportation service. Sadly, they don’t offer any accessible vehicles.
- Cancun Accessible is a specialty resort offering barrier-free facilities and customized services, including airport transfers.
- Toronto’s Pearson International Airport offers an Airport Customer Assistance Program and several services and information resources for travelers with disabilities.
- Airline Limousine and Aeroport Taxi & Limousine are two local service providers who offer chauffer-driven, flat-rate, accessible vehicles.
- Toronto’s Transit Commission continues to expand system-wide access upgrades for passengers with disabilities. In June 2011, the TTC began a rollout of Next Generation Vehicles.
- Wheel-Trans is the TTC’s affiliated paratransit bus service. They also operate the majority of the city’s wheelchair-accessible taxis. Common on-demand/metered taxis are rarely accessible in Toronto.
Vancouver, British Columbia
- Vancouver International Airport’s completely accessible facilities welcome travelers with disabilities to one of the world’s most barrier-free cities. On-site Customer Care Staff are available to assist all visitors.
- Translink operates Vancouver’s extensive public transit service, an all-accessible network of diesel and trolley buses complemented by the SkyTrain rapid light rail system, which connects directly to the Vancouver Airport.
- HandyDART, Translink’s paratransit service, is also available to visitors who submit a temporary application.
- Yellow Cab is Vancouver’s oldest and largest taxi service. Their fleet now includes 37 wheelchair-accessible vehicles, all offering on-demand/metered trips. All other local cab companies offer varying levels of accessible service.